KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — No matter the quarterback, Nick Saban has one vision.

That’s winning a game. It’s in his DNA, it’s what has made him the best.

In 2016, he has placed the ball in freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts’ hands. And Hurts has responded.

Blake Barnett received the call, starting against Southern Cal in Dallas, but in Saban’s eyes – and what he mentioned during the game to ABC – Barnett was nervous. Saban pulled Barnett and replaced him with Hurts.

All Hurts has done is direct the highest-scoring offense in Saban’s decade of dominance in Tuscaloosa. The Tide are averaging an SEC-best 44.8 points per game.

Hurts is completing 63.8 percent of his passes for 1,242 yards. Perhaps most surprisingly, he’s taking care of the football. He’s thrown 9 touchdown passes and just 2 interceptions.

That’s the fewest interceptions among the eight SEC quarterbacks who have thrown at least 150 passes this season. It’s six fewer than Vols senior signal-caller Joshua Dobbs.

He’s also third among SEC QBs with 296 rushing yards.

Alabama has defeated Tennessee nine consecutive times, but Hurts might be the most talented Tide quarterback it has faced during that stretch.

And, in keeping with Alabama tradition, he’s surrounded by similarly-skilled talent. Four Tide receivers have caught touchdown passes.

“They have some good receivers and a good tight end in O.J. Howard,” Tennessee defensive back Todd Kelly, Jr. said of the Alabama offense. “Calvin Ridley – everyone knows who he is. ArDarius Stewart.

“They have some play-makers on the offensive side of the ball and our job in the defensive backfield is to just eliminate the big plays, like I talked about before, because they are just one explosive play from blowing the game away. My freshman year Amari Cooper had an 80-yard catch and these guys have the same capabilities.”

Sep 17, 2016; Oxford, MS, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback Jalen Hurts (2) leaps to avoid a tackle during the third quarter of the game against the Mississippi Rebels at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Alabama won 48-43. Mandatory Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Kelly Jr. is right. Defending Lane Kiffin’s offense is key for victory. Tennessee will need to limit Hurts’ ability to break containment. He’s poised and can breakdown defenses with his legs. He’s accurate on intermediate throws, which translates into Kiffin’s designed deep plays.

“I feel like Jalen Hurts is very athletic, he can do it all,” Kelly Jr. said. “He’s real calm in the pocket, never gets too flustered and that’s big-time for a freshman because when you have a freshman back there they can sometimes get flustered and not trust the O-line.

“But he trusts his O-linemen, trusts his receivers, tight ends and running backs to block for him and he is an offensive threat.

“He brings that spread package to them now where they used to be a little conservative with the run and pass. Now they can do it all in terms of formations and that brings another dimension to their offense. He’s very challenging and he’s going to bring a lot of problems to our defense.”

Being versatile and causing problems more to the oppositions defense is what makes this Alabama team under Saban even more scary. The five-time national championship head coach now has his offensive coordinator in place, a poised spread quarterback, talent on both lines, and a team that scores outside of the offense.

The bar is set, and Tennessee has the home stage to upset the pecking order in the SEC.